Oecolampadius, Johannes (1482-1531)

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Johannes Oecolampadius (1482-1531), reformer of Basel, Switzerland. He studied law at the University of Bologna, Italy, then theology at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, accepted a pastorate in Weinsberg in order to continue his studies at the University of Tübingen, where he became the good friend of Melanchthon. Then he went to Stuttgart, studied Greek under Reuchlin, and then to Heidelberg, where he became acquainted with Capito and Brenz. In 1515 he became cathedral preacher at Basel, was won by Erasmus as a collaborator in his publication of the New Testament, lived a while in Weinsberg, returned to Basel in August 1518, then became preacher in Augsburg, where he entered the monastery of St. Bridgett for a year. After a brief sojourn on the Ebernburg, from April to November 1522, he returned to Basel and became an outstanding Reformer. He soon came into contact with the Swiss Brethren there. When Hans Denck came to Basel in 1523 he attached himself closely to Oecolampadius and attended his lectures on Isaiah, thus coming indirectly under the influence of Erasmian Bible interpretation. To a letter of recommendation from Oecolampadius to Willibald Pirkheimer, Denck owed his appointment to the rectorship of the school of St. Sebaldus in Nürnberg. After Denck's expulsion from the city in 1525 Oecolampadius wrote Pirkheimer that he had been deceived in Denck. In November 1527 Oecolampadius again met Denck, who was mortally ill, hoping to win him to his views. He thought he had accomplished this when Denck, at Oecolampadius' insistence, shortly before his death presented to him a confession of faith; Oecolampadius had it published under the title, Hans Dencken Widerruf (see Hans Denck).

Johannes Oecolampadius Source: [http://www.mun.ca/rels/reform/pics/people/people.html Reformation Picture Gallery - People web site]

Toward the close of 1524 or early in 1525 Thomas Müntzer made a brief visit to Basel. Oecolampadius received him kindly. In the presence of Hugwald they discussed infant baptism. Müntzer said that he was still practicing infant baptism, though not immediately after birth, but at longer intervals for a number of children, so that the ceremony would become more solemn, a procedure approved by Oecolampadius.

On 16 January 1525 Oecolampadius received a letter from Balthasar Hubmaier requesting his view on infant baptism; he had abolished the practice and substituted the consecration of the children before the assembled congregation. Oecolampadius replied that he was holding to infant baptism, since the kingdom of heaven was closed to unbaptized infants on account of original sin. The faith of their parents would be reckoned in their favor.

Oecolampadius sent an excerpt from Hubmaier's letter to Zwingli. Evidently under Zwingli's influence Oecolampadius wrote a second letter to Hubmaier, definitely defending infant baptism, which, though not commanded in the Bible, was not forbidden. Even in the case of adults one could not see whether they had faith. Therefore the faith of the parents and godparents was sufficient.

In August 1525 Oecolampadius had a debate with the Anabaptists in his home (Loserth gives the date erroneously as 5 June in the church of St. Mary). He published an account of it, Gespräch etlicher Prädikanten zu Basel gehalten mit etlichen Bekennern des Wiedertaufs. The Anabaptists defended their position on the basis of the Great Commission, which sets teaching before baptism, and on the example of the chamberlain whom Philip baptized; baptism must not be equated with circumcision. They denied that they were introducing a second baptism, since in their eyes infant baptism was not baptism at all. Oecolampadius reminded them that they were founding a new sect that would end in separation and mob spirit, so that they could not be of one spirit. No agreement was reached in the debate. The Swiss Brethren felt themselves strengthened in their views. On 10 October another disputation was to be held in the church of St. Martin, concerning which there is no definite information. The opposing views were more sharply in conflict, the struggle grew more and more bitter.

In two writings Oecolampadius presented his position on infant baptism: Unterrichtung von dem Wiedertauf, von der Obrigkeit und vom Eid auf Karlins N. Wiedertäufers Artikel, and Balthasar Hubmaiers Büchlein wider der Predikanten Gespräch zu Basel von dem Kindertauf (August 1527). The former booklet is an attack on Karlin, who had stated the articles of his faith in writing and had planned to defend them against Oecolampadius and the Catholic clergy before the council. When this was not permitted, Oecolampadius composed the booklet mentioned, in which he attacked the Swiss Brethren with an unusual acerbity. He calls them Katabaptists (drowners); "for you murder the noble souls and good consciences in your baptism." In the second booklet he defended infant baptism against Hubmaier on the above grounds, while he attacked adult baptism on the ground that it offended faith and love. Nonetheless his position is gentler than Zwingli's. The difference between the two was that "Zwingli proved that the infants must be baptized, Oecolampadius that infants may be baptized."

On 14 March 1528 a sharp mandate was issued by Basel against the Swiss Brethren, threatening them with loss of property and life. On 1 July 1528 Oecolampadius wrote to Zwingli, "Recently there were over 100 together in the neighborhood, of whom several were brought to prison here, who had already been driven out from this place and that with rods."

Late in the summer of 1528 Oecolampadius instituted a church inspection that revealed the increase of the Anabaptist movement in the rural areas. Thereupon he issued the Shepherd's Epistle to the thirteen pastors of the canton and four of the Bishopric of Basel, in which he had Anabaptism uppermost in mind.

On 12 January 1530 the Anabaptist Hans Ludi was drowned. The execution created a deep impression. This comes to light in a letter Oecolampadius wrote to Zwingli in that month: "Therein that they (the Swiss Brethren) die so steadfastly and pretend innocence, is a new danger; some namely, who are not founded on solid ground, are beginning to waver; for they regard the steadfastness more than the reason for it, and the cross more than the reason for it, as if faith were confirmed only by suffering." Other executions followed. The movement was violently suppressed. On 29 May 1531 Oecolampadius wrote to Konrad Sohm (Sam) in Ulm: "Hardly a place of refuge remains for the Anabaptists, the church is again respected, gradually all resistance is removed." But this rejoicing was premature, as the Reformer was to learn on a tour of church inspection for the city council in May 1531, when he was preaching in Läufelfingen in the church and an Anabaptist interrupted him, whereupon a tumult resulted. The representative of the council and the mercenaries accompanying him freed him from threatening danger. A few months later he died. -- Neff

Ernst Stahelin wrote an outstanding biography of Oecolampadius (see bibliography below), which presents the disputes with the Anabaptists. Besides this biography Stahelin published the equally valuable volumes of letters and records concerning Oecolampadius. On the basis of these recently available sources Eberhard Teufel urged (Theologische Rundschau) a closer investigation of the influence of Oecolampadius' lectures on Isaiah upon the translation of the prophets by Denck and Haetzer in Worms (1527) than had hitherto been possible. As an expositor of the Bible, Oecolampadius was a student of Erasmus, and only in the second place of Luther. His Erasmian zeal as a translator of the Bible he transferred to his Basel auditors, including Haetzer and Denck. In so far as these Anabaptist leaders were versed in the Biblical languages, they also acquired more from Erasmus via Oecolampadius than from Luther. Erasmus is the instigating influence in the scholarly study of the Bible by the Swiss Brethren through the lectures of Oecolampadius. -- E.T.


Loserth, J. Balthasar Hubmaier. Brno, 1893.

Burckhart, Paul. Die Basler Taufer. Basel, 1898: 38.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. III: 296 f.

Stahelin, E. "Das theologische Lebenswerk Johannes Oekolampads." Quellen und Forschungen zur Reformationsgeschichte XXI (1939): xxiv and 652.

Stahelin, E. "Briefe und Akten zum Leben Oekolampads: (1499-1526)." Quellen und Forschungen zur Reformations-geschichte X (1927).

Stahelin, E. "Briefe und Akten zum Leben Oekolampads: (1527-93)." Quellen und Forschungen zur Reformationsgeschichte 14 (1934).

Theologische Rundschau 14, Nos. 1-3: 60 f.

Author(s) Christian Neff
Eberhard Teufel
Date Published 1959

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Neff, Christian and Eberhard Teufel. "Oecolampadius, Johannes (1482-1531)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 13 Apr 2024. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Oecolampadius,_Johannes_(1482-1531)&oldid=146656.

APA style

Neff, Christian and Eberhard Teufel. (1959). Oecolampadius, Johannes (1482-1531). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 13 April 2024, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Oecolampadius,_Johannes_(1482-1531)&oldid=146656.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 18-20. All rights reserved.

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